July 3, 2019

UFC: Ngannou and Benavidez Deserve To Face Champions Next, But Face Uncertainty Instead

By Raphael Garcia

The main reason that the men and women on the UFC roster step into the Octagon is to compete for the biggest prizes they can obtain. Yes, titles are a “thing,” but at the end of the day these fighters owe a duty to their bank accounts just like everyone else. That's why it’s so troublesome that UFC President Dana White consistently deprives fighters of well-deserved title shots -- for many of them, these bouts represent their best opportunities to obtain the biggest prizes available in their respective careers.

Coming off of big finishes in the co-main event and headlining bout at last weekend's UFC on ESPN 3 event, Joseph Benavidez and Francis Ngannou should be waiting in the wings with title shots in tow, but instead face uncertainty about what comes next. According to White, there very valid reasons he has not promised the two fighters title opportunities, as outlined in a piece by Damon Martin of MMA Fighting: For Ngannou, he must wait for the outcome of the upcoming bout between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier that’s set for UFC 241 in August. Benavidez must wait out Henry Cejudo’s shoulder surgery recovery and whatever decision the UFC makes for his career, as he’s a two-division champion. Both of these men walked into the Octagon and completed his end of the deal in a manner that left no questions, but the questions of what comes next, and when, remain unanswered.

What happens if Miocic wins at UFC 241? Would the UFC feel a need to create a trilogy bout? What if Cormier wins and retires after UFC 241? Would Ngannou be guaranteed a slot in the fight to determine the new champion? What happens if the UFC finally closes the deal on Brock Lesnar's Octagon return? All these questions leave Ngannou in a less than ideal spot when it comes to securing another opportunity to fight for the UFC Heavyweight Championship anytime soon.

But Benavidez is facing even more questions. He's waiting on a champion that doesn’t seem interested in defending the flyweight title, in a flyweight division whose very future is in doubt. After securing his second title, Cejudo made it a point to call out three bantamweights, all of whom have no business being included in the title picture at this time: Dominick Cruz, Cody Garbrandt, and Urijah Faber. Benavidez, the clear top contender at flyweight, on the other hand, holds a win over the champion, but for some reason, Cejudo is in no rush to avenge the loss. (Similar to the way that he was in no rush to give a rematch to Demetrious Johnson after his razor-thin decision win over the longtime champion at UFC 227.) Cejudo even had the nerve to mention the possibility of moving up to featherweight before addressing the idea of a bout with Benavidez. So who knows what Cejudo's priorities at flyweight will be after he returns to action and begins to contemplate his next weight cut.

On one hand, it's worth acknowledging that Cejudo and Cormier are merely doing what stars in other sports do -- making career decisions based on what's best for their brands and long-term bottom line. But their decisions do have ripple effects. We know that champions earn larger paydays for their participation in title bouts, and often, so do their challengers. So when fighters earn title shots, but are kept out of the title picture for business reasons, that has an impact on their revenue earning potential. It’s not in their best interest to wait on the sidelines, but taking another fight instead can have disastrous results, like it did for Frankie Edgar at featherweight. The men and women on the UFC roster are at the mercy of the decisions by UFC leadership about who gets title shots and when. And there’s really nothing that they can do when the promotion doesn't keep its promises.

After their big wins last weekend, Joseph Benavidez and Francis Ngannou should be next in line for shots at the belts in their respective divisions. But there seem to be a lot of things that need to get worked out in each division before either fighter sees his title opportunity come to fruition. And with the way the UFC is set up, no one would be surprised if they never do.

UFC on ESPN 3
Francis Ngannou vs. Junior Dos Santos: Francis Ngannou def. Junior dos Santos via first-round TKO (punches) at of 1:11 of Round 1.

UFC on ESPN 3
Joseph Benavidez vs. Jussier Formiga: Joseph Benavidez def. Jussier Formiga via TKO (strikes) at 4:47 of Round 2.

UFC on ESPN 3: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos (formerly UFC on ESPN 3: Woodley vs. Lawler 2) took place June 29, 2019 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN 3 Post-Fight Analysis




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